Sep 28

This is the third and final installment of posts about our July 2009 visit to the Montes de María region of northern Colombia. It wraps up a longer series of initial observations of Colombia’s U.S.-supported “Integrated Action” (or “consolidation” or “fusion center” or “CCAI” or “Plan Colombia 2″) counterinsurgency or state-building programs. These will be boiled down to key points, laid out and presented as a CIP publication within a couple of weeks.

Earlier posts about the Montes de María give an overview of the region’s recent history, and a narrative of what we saw when we visited. This post attempts to evaluate what is still a very new program in the Montes de María.

A less military program – but soldiers still play an outsize role

When we visited the Integrated Action “Fusion Center” in La Macarena in April, it was plain that we had arrived in the middle of an active military operation. With security far from established, and combat with the FARC frequent, the “Integrated Action” strategy was, as we noted, “a mostly military endeavor.”

That description does not fit the program in Montes de María. There is a significant military and police component, and there is strong reason to be concerned about the armed forces taking on roles that do not correspond to it. But the program’s design and makeup are fundamentally more civilian.

The reason for that is security. In La Macarena, the Fusion Center employs updated maps dividing the zone into red (too insecure), yellow (civilians with military accompaniment) or green (a security perimeter has been established) areas. Most of the map, beyond town centers and their immediate environs, appears red. The Montes de María Fusion Center sees no need for such a “stoplight” system; we were told that the entire region is now considered “green.”

As we have noted, the guerrilla presence in the zone is nearly zero since the late 2007 killing of FARC 37th Front leader Martín Caballero. The heirs to the paramilitaries who swept through the zone are strong, politically influential, and killing each other with increasing frequency, but the state does not regard them to be a threat significant enough to warrant a constant military role in development (more on that below).

There are exceptions, though. The most notable is the program’s largest infrastructure-building project: a badly needed road between El Carmen de Bolívar and Chinulito, Sucre. This road’s construction, ambitious because of the rugged terrain it must cross, has been left entirely up to the Marines (Infantería de Marina; as in many coastal areas, the Marines, a unit of Colombia’s Navy, play a far more prominent role than the Army). When asked why the military was given such a non-security job in a permissive security environment, military authorities contended that using the Marines was more cost-effective. Other Fusion Center personnel characterized it as the result of decisions made in 2007, when the zone was less secure and the CCAI was being established with an active-duty military commander (see below).

While the Montes de María program is a less olive-drab affair than its counterpart in La Macarena, the military component is still viewed as central. “The patrols are there to accompany the campesino,” a military officer expressed to us. A prominent social leader was more critical: “Whenever the guns come out, we’re the ones who get shot at.”

The Coordination (Formerly Fusion) Center

The Center for the Coordination of Integrated Action (CCAI) began work in the Montes de María in 2007. The modestly funded program was coordinated by Col. Rafael Colón, the Marine officer who had confronted the region’s paramilitaries during his 2004-2006 tenure at the head of the local brigade. (Col. Colón is discussed in an earlier post.) Colón was transferred to a post in Peru after a mid-2008 apology, on behalf of the Navy, to the victims of the Macayepo, Chengue and El Salado massacres, which earned a rebuke from his superiors. We heard little evaluation of Colón’s brief tenure during the CCAI’s initial period in Montes de María, other than that it appeared well-intentioned but took too long to get started, seemed to lack resources, and envisioned an oversize military role.

The Montes de María program was “reset” at the beginning of 2009, when the Colombian Presidency’s Social Action agency signed an assistance agreement with USAID. This allowed for a larger budget and, in February, the opening of a “Fusion Center” office to provide on-the-ground coordination of the program’s activities. By June, five such centers had been established throughout Colombia, though only the La Macarena and Montes de María centers had significant U.S. funding. That month, it was decided to change their names to the less bellicose-sounding “Coordination Centers” (a name we will use for the remainder of this post). The Montes de María Coordination Center is not physically based in Montes de María, however: its headquarters are in an office building in Cartagena, with a satellite office in Sincelejo, the capital of Sucre.

USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives (OTI) is contributing modestly to this program – amounts likely do not exceed $3 million, though we’ve been unable to obtain an exact figure for this region – but the agency as a whole is planning to invest more heavily; a recent request for grant applications outlines an “Enhanced Livelihoods Initiative” that expects to spend $32 million in Montes de María over the next five years. A CCAI PowerPoint about its Montes de María program appears to indicate a total investment from all sources of about $43.3 million.

As was the case at the La Macarena Center and the CCAI headquarters in Bogotá, the civilian staff at the Montes de María Coordination Center was made up of able, energetic technocrats, most from the Social Action agency. Though Social Action is known mainly for clientelistic programs that hand out cash subsidies to millions, the Coordination Center staff we met were detail-oriented practitioners, not political apparatchiks.

The Coordination Center did not appear to be a tool for the Uribe government’s political machine. To the contrary, the worry would be the opposite: that this surprisingly small office (all CCAI coordinating offices were surprisingly small) is held at such arms’ length from the rest of “government as usual” that it may lack the political clout necessary to gain resources or to overcome opposition from reticent ministries, local officials or economic elites.

Returning the displaced

Unlike La Macarena, where the main goal is to build a state presence where none exists, the Montes de María Center’s main mission is to help displaced communities return to the area. While security and “consolidating governance” are big parts of the methodology, the objective is far more economic or humanitarian than the more counterinsurgent program in La Macarena.

(Click map to enlarge)

The Montes de María program focuses on only four of the region’s 15 municipalities (counties), making up roughly one-third of its land area: San Onofre and Ovejas, Sucre, and El Carmen de Bolívar and San Jacinto, Bolívar. As of early July, the Coordination Center was developing operational plans for each of the four municipalities, focusing on about 12 communities where displaced populations are returning.

As in La Macarena, the USAID/OTI funding was focused heavily on “rapid-impact projects” in and around these communities. These are small construction projects and other efforts designed to make a short-term demonstration that the state intends to establish a presence. They include:

  • Transportation projects like the El Carmen-Chinulito road discussed above, and a series of bridges in San Jacinto municipality being built mostly with funds from the government of Japan;
  • Assistance in restoring returned communities’ housing and neighborhoods;
  • Water and electricity projects;
  • Telecommunications projects like building up the mobile phone network, radio broadcasting (the Coordination Center staff said they sought to encourage community radio stations), and Internet through state-run “Compartel” access points in remote communities;
  • Construction and repairs to schools, though longer-term needs like teachers and materials, the responsibility of the Education Ministry, remained to be dealt with;
  • Construction of health posts in town centers, though the questions of doctors and supplies depend on the Social Protection Ministry. Some community members expressed concerns about providing care in rural areas with a lack of roads and ambulances, while others worried that these health posts, many of them managed by for-profit companies, were part of an effort to do away with public hospitals in municipal “county seats;”
  • Food security projects, with cacao and yuca the principal crops being encouraged. We were told that the Coordination Center’s projects were not encouraging cultivation of the controversial African oil palm, though the municipality of María La Baja, Bolívar, adjacent to the zone of the Center’s focus, is quickly becoming a center of oil palm production, and the crop is popular among many who are rapidly buying land in the region; and
  • Accompaniment of projects for the conflict’s victims, like mental health programs and historical memory efforts like the recent release of a report on the El Salado massacre, published by the Historical Memory Group of the National Reconciliation and Reparations Commission.

As “rapid impact” projects, most of these efforts will require a good deal of follow-up beyond the next two or three years before the Colombian state can truly be said to be present in the region’s historically neglected villages and rural zones.


Any effort to restore displaced farm families to their original communities must immediately confront Colombia’s unjust and intricately complicated land tenure system. In rural Colombia, land is equal to power, and competition for its control has driven the conflict for generations. This is especially true in the Montes de María, with its semi-feudal tenant-farmer past, the unusual fertility of its soil, its location among highly coveted drug-trafficking corridors, its high rate of internal displacement, and the extremely rapid land-buying rush underway today.

As a result of the violence at the beginning of the decade, we were told, as much as 150,000 hectares (375,000 acres) of Montes de María farmland is abandoned and uncultivated, “returning to the jungle.” But in many cases, this land is either in the hands of large landholders whose tenant farmers are not returning, or it is simply unclear to whom it belongs.

The Coordination Center plans to spend US$4.5 million for a range of land-tenure activities, including cadastral surveys, adjudication of disputes, compensation, certifying possession, legal protection for small landholders, debt freezes, freezing land sales in specific areas, and investigating suspicious transactions. The Center does not, however, plan anything as ambitious as a full plot-by-plot cadaster (mapping of landholdings) in all four municipalities, nor does it plan a massive titling of small landholders. Instead, they will focus on the roughly twelve returning communities they have already identified, taking an inventory of landholdings – “a snapshot of what landholding looked like when displacement happened” – and seeking to restore land to those who wish to return.

Even this more modest goal will require unraveling a lot of disputes. Did the landholder ever hold clear title? If they were tenant farmers beforehand, can they prove how much land they cultivated? If they owned the land, did they sell it willingly or under duress (either direct threat or inability to pay debt due to displacement)? Does the current owner of the land deserve compensation, and if so, how much?

The Coordination Center envisions “Municipal Committees for Attention to the Displaced Population” – a body made up of the mayor, the mayor’s first secretary, the International Committee of the Red Cross, police, military, church and community leaders – as the main tool for adjudicating such local land disputes. These committees’ effectiveness varies widely across municipalities, however, and some mayors have not even bothered to convene them.

In fact, these mayors, and local elites, may not share the Coordination Center’s enthusiasm for displaced farmers’ return. As mentioned before, with relative peace in Montes de María has come a sharp rise in land prices, and a bonanza of land purchases. As thousands of hectares change hands in each municipality, we were told, land is being concentrated in the hands of “paisas.” The term refers to people from the more populous, economically potent nearby department of Antioquia, and seems to indicate either large agribusinesses or narcotraffickers laundering profits through land purchases – or both.

Amid this backdrop, the deck is already stacked against small landholders, not to mention returning displaced persons. “As soon as INCODER [the government's troubled land-reform agency] identifies an unowned plot, a large landowner shows up to buy it,” lamented one community leader. Smallholders also have a much more difficult time meeting legal requirements, including the hundreds or even thousands of dollars in notarized documents and other official fees involved in registering even a small land purchase.

While purchases are difficult, the pressures to sell are enormous. “Who is selling their land? Indebted campesinos, campesinos who can’t get credit, campesinos who don’t want to return, campesinos‘ relatives who do not identify as strongly with the land, and campesinos who are threatened, who are told, ‘Either you sell, or I’ll buy it from your widow,’” one non-governmental organization director explained. A smallholder with a large-landholding neighbor who covets his land may be subject to even further pressures to sell, beyond his own indebtedness. The large landholder can affect his water supplies, cut off his road access, or simply “accidentally” leave an opening in his fence through which cattle can pass and eat the smallholder’s crop.

Is the local government an ally of the Coordination Center?

To overcome these extraordinary challenges, small landholders and returning displaced people would need active support from the state. The Montes de María Coordination Center’s plans indicate that they hope to provide that support, at least to the returning communities they have selected in four municipalities. But it is easy to imagine that, in doing so, the Cartagena-based Center will encounter fierce opposition from a constituency that is supposed to be one of its key partners: the local governments of the Montes de María.

Unlike La Macarena, the Montes de María are not a “vacuum” of state presence. The area has been settled for centuries, not recently carved out of the jungle, and most ministries of the central government have long had a presence in municipal capitals and the larger town centers. Mayors and town councils hold actual decisionmaking power, control resources, and often have the backing of regional political machinery.

Granted, this state presence has rarely bothered to penetrate into the rural zones that make up most of the region’s territory. But the point is that where governance is concerned, the Montes de María is not a “blank slate” to the extent that guerrilla-controlled La Macarena is. There is an existing power structure, with its power ratified by elections. As it works toward its principal declared goal of returning displaced populations, the Montes de María Coordination Center must work with – or around, or even against – local and departmental governments.

From Verdad Abierta’s Sucre page (Ex-Governor Salvador Arana is in the picture). Highly recommended.

The declared intention, of course, is to work hand-in-glove with local authorities. “In the consolidation zones, the primary civilian face of the State is the municipal and departmental entities – a point on which the CCAI is clear,” notes an August communication from USAID. “Strengthening local governance capacity – especially at the municipal level – has been a fundamental PCIM [La Macarena Integral Consolidation Program] focus and is now a primary focus in Montes de María.”

The question is to what extent the local authorities actually support the smallholding agricultural model, much less the return of displaced communities. As we have noted, Sucre and Bolívar have been hard-hit by the “para-politics” scandal: many local officials are in jail or under investigation for their support of the paramilitary armies that caused most of the massive displacement in the first place. Many local governments in Sucre and Bolívar continue to be tied to a nexus of large landholders, narcotraffickers, and political bosses who chose to rid the Montes de María of guerrilla presence by sponsoring paramilitary groups that, by overwhelmingly targeting smallholding civilians who lived in the zone, caused the depopulation that the Consolidation Center now proposes to reverse.

In Sucre department alone, the Verdad Abierta website (a project of Semana magazine and prominent NGOs) noted in July, “A total of 35 politicians have been processed for their ties to the paramilitaries. Eight ex-mayors, seven ex-councilmen, one former departmental legislator, three former governors, three former congressmen, three serving congressmen and 3 senators elected for the 2006-2010 period, 2 mayors and 5 councilmen elected in 2007.” Jailed mayors included the former mayor of San Onofre, one of the four municipalities chosen for the Coordination Center’s work, as well as the mayors of neighboring municipalities Colosó and Toluviejo. (Inhabitants of Chinulito, which is part of Colosó, also accuse former mayor Manuel David Arrieta of stealing funds designated for the town’s reconstruction.) Just to the east, in the vicinity of Magangué, Bolívar, the most powerful paramilitary-tied political boss was a woman: Enilce López, “La Gata,” now in prison, who also controlled much of the legal lottery along Colombia’s northern coast.

Colombia last held municipal and gubernatorial elections in October 2007. In several parts of the country, the para-politicians’ political machines suffered stinging defeats at the polls. This was not so in Sucre, Bolívar and the Montes de María, where associates of the jailed and arrested politicians fared well. In San Onofre, the newly elected mayor was a politician widely accused of paramilitary ties. The gubernatorial election in Sucre is believed to have involved fraud in order to keep the same political group in power, as Semana magazine reported at the time:

A point of uncertainty … is the citizen alarm after the partial triumph of “Tuto” Barraza – candidate of Congressman Carlos García, imprisoned for “parapolitics” – over Julio César Guerra Tulena, for governor of Sucre. Until just before eight at night Barraza was losing by 2,000 votes, when mysteriously the Registry’s data transmission system broke down. Shortly afterward, the Registry’s officials ordered the exit of all overseers and witnesses from the political parties. When the system went back online, Barraza was winning by 200 votes. The Registry (Registraduría) assures that it will investigate what happened, while the region’s voters recall that these were the same strategies by which García won elections before being sent to prison.

Also on a 2007 Semana list [PDF] of candidates with a “high risk” of paramilitary links was the elected governor of Sincelejo, the capital of Sucre, Jesús Antonio Paternina Samur. Meanwhile in Magangué, imprisoned regional boss “La Gata” scored another victory in early July 2009 when her approved candidate won a special mayoral election.

We obtained no smoking-gun evidence of current officeholders’ illegal activity. We note, though, that most are members of the same political groupings as the para-politicians who came before. As a result, even if they are not proven “para-politicians” themselves, they are likely to be representing the same sets of political interests and constituencies. And those constituencies have a record of being hostile to the interests of the small landholders and formerly displaced people of rural Montes de María. This concern is ratified by repeated testimony we heard about elected leaders’ utter lack of interest even in visiting communities of small farmers and returned displaced people.

Yet these are the elected officials with whom the Coordination Center – an entity dedicated to the viability of small farmers and the return of displaced people – must work. “They were voted in,” a U.S. official explained. “You do what you can and work with everyone.” The way to deal with the challenge of reticent local officials, officials told us, is to offer training and support to build their own management capacities; to strengthen the justice system so that official wrongdoing can be denounced and punished; to work with all social sectors, not just the local government; and to maintain a constant monitoring presence and avoid giving them direct control of resources. Local officials, we were told, are even expected to provide resources from their own treasuries in order to increase their “buy-in.” These officials, for their part, view this as an additional strain on tight budgets. “They [the Coordination Center] ask for resources, but there aren’t any,” Sucre’s governor told us.

The Coordination Center is involving local leadership through the signing of “Political Pacts” with the authorities and other “fuerzas vivas” (business, religious, and civil-society leaders) in each of the four chosen municipalities. The pacts include commitments for development projects in the entire zone, but their chief focus is the return of displaced communities.

These pacts are being drawn up with local institutions as they currently exist. If these institutions represent interests that favor large-scale agribusiness, do not view displaced communities’ return as a priority, and may be one or two degrees of separation away from the paramilitaries themselves, their partnership with the Coordination Center will be a very uneasy one.

In the best of scenarios, it could pit the central government, allied with USAID and Southern Command, against a local landowning elite. This would be an unusual match-up, and it would be interesting to see who would come out ahead. The determining factor would be the central government: will it ultimately back the technocrats of the Coordination Center, or would it back the local elite, which has been strongly supportive of President Uribe since his first candidacy? An unencouraging sign comes from the central government’s Agriculture Ministry, which has clearly favored the large-landholder model and has been notably slow to issue land titles either in La Macarena or the Montes de María.

The security challenge

Even if communities do return, and receive land titles, how will they protect their claims, and their lives, in a region considered strategic for drug traffickers and highly profitable for land speculators? Since Col. Colón’s tenure in the Marines’ 1st Brigade, the armed forces have been viewed as standing between the population and violent groups. But leaderships change, and protecting the population in a region considered “safe” is not a likely long-term military role anyway, even in Colombia. That responsibility will fall to Colombia’s National Police.

Currently, the police are responsible for citizen security in town centers, while the Marines handle the rural areas. We were told that a transition from Marines to police is likely to take place, though we heard little idea of a timetable. The United States is helping to set up mobile constabulary forces (Carabineros) and provide them with equipment in order to increase police coverage in rural areas. Still, the local police have yet to win the population’s trust. We heard several times that they are often regarded as too tied to local political elites, too corrupt, and too quick to treat the local citizenry with suspicion, including suspicion of helping guerrillas.

The towns, which are the purview of the police, have seen the greatest increase in activity by re-armed or “new” paramilitary groups, some of which are little more than foot-soldiers for drug trafficking organizations. The doubling of murders in Sincelejo from the first half of 2008 to the first half of 2009 owes almost entirely to internecine violence between groups competing for control of drug trafficking routes.

The “new” groups most frequently mentioned are the Paisas (related to the Medellín-based Oficina de Envigado narcotrafficking organization), the Rastrojos (the rapidly growing heirs to part of the North Valle cartel and the AUC’s Calima Bloc), and the organization led by “Don Mario,” a fugitive paramilitary leader and narcotrafficker captured in April. We also heard of the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles), a rearmed group whose name has emerged in many parts of the country, but the Marines told us that this group has not in fact appeared in the zone – it is a name used to intimidate, as when issuing threats.

A special prosecutor, operating from the safety of the 1st Marine Brigade’s base, was assigned from Bogotá early this year to investigate Sucre’s new groups, and between February and June his efforts had resulted in 28 arrests. However, the “new” paramilitaries are more active this year than before in the zone, increasing their recruitment, more visibly monitoring activity in neighborhoods they control, and issuing more frequent and severe threats against civil-society figures, especially victims’ leaders. Among the municipalities of the Montes de María, the armed groups’ violence appeared to be worst in San Onofre, where the victims’ leaders were seeing the worst threats, and where the new armed groups were estimated to have killed between 15 and 19 of each other’s members during the first half of 2009.

Amid this worsening panorama, concerns about the police force’s capacity to protect vulnerable populations, such as returned displaced communities, are real and will require attention.

Civil society

On the positive side, displaced communities are not returning to a vacuum. The Montes de María may have unequal landholding, an entrenched political class, and growing armed groups, but it also has a civil society. At least in the towns, there are organizations petitioning the state, denouncing wrongdoing, and exercising their rights as citizens: victims’ groups, religious groups, human rights groups, and active scholars, among others.

There is also a European-funded “peace and development” program seeking to combine economic projects with reconciliation and conflict-resolution: the Montes de María Development and Peace Network. Since 2005, this program has executed projects funded by the European Commission’s “3rd Peace Laboratory,” an aid program that intends to provide Colombia with non-military, civil-society-based assistance. The Network’s director, Father Rafael Castillo, spoke of building peace on the foundation of a “triangle of sustainability” uniting civil society, state institutions and the private sector. His program, he argued, promotes a model of “development based on rights, not needs,” avoiding an assistentialist, handout-based approach. And he made clear that the Network is more interested in building lasting “processes” through ongoing dialogue with communities than scoring quick, impermanent “successes” – which we interpreted to be a gentle critique of USAID’s “rapid impact project”approach.

Critics of the European-funded model contend that it moves too slowly and tentatively, making the larger community impatient to see results; that it does not distinguish clearly enough between effective civil-society organizations and “free riders;” and that its interactions with communities and the state too often ignore the power and influence of narcotraffickers. Still, the Peace Laboratory and the Development and Peace Network now have several years of experience and have put down roots in the community. The Coordination Center must make every effort to reach out to, and learn from, them. The same goes for the region’s other active civil society groups – especially the highly threatened and vulnerable victims’ groups who most urgently need protection.


The “Integrated Action” program we saw in Montes de María is too new to evaluate. What we saw, however, was a project with modest but mostly laudable goals, with a far better mix of civilian and military/police capacities than we witnessed in La Macarena. The better security situation should also contribute to better relations with the local population, as the security forces are not employing harsh measures like mass arrests or forced eradication.

We saw a model that may in fact encounter its greatest “pushback” not from the rural population, but from the large landholders and traditional political class in the towns and cities. Overcoming that resistance and helping the formerly displaced small-farmer communities chosen for assistance will require strong political support from the central government and an ability to resist the wave of buying and selling that is concentrating land in fewer hands. It will also require a more responsive, capable and professional police presence, a judicial system that can credibly punish abuse and corruption, and a relationship with civil society based on far more trust and communication than exist now.

It will also require that residents of Montes de María be convinced that a state – not local politicians captured by elites, but a state that enforces the law and provides basic services – is truly being established in the zone. This will require more than a few years of “rapid impact projects.” It will call for delivery of services and a constant state presence among communities that have never known one. It is a very long-term commitment.

Jun 10

This is the final “Integrated Action” post for now. I know it’s a bit long for the blog format. If you haven’t been following these programs in detail, it may even seem a bit boring. But these posts are helping us to process our own ideas and to engage in more conversations as we try to figure out what to make of these programs. And since we’re really looking at what may be the future of U.S. aid to Colombia, it is important that we get this right. Thanks for your patience.

This is the third of three posts presenting initial impressions of Colombia’s “Integrated Action” strategy and programs. (Here are the first and second posts.) These programs are being billed as the model for much future U.S. assistance to Colombia.

This post offers some initial conclusions and observations based on what we’ve seen and heard so far after a few months of documentary research and interviews, and a late April trip to the “Integrated Action” zone in Vistahermosa, Meta. We plan on traveling to another zone, carrying out more interviews, and publishing a fuller evaluation in September.

Again, these are preliminary conclusions. The caveats laid out in the first post in this series fully apply.

Our first conclusion is that, in its present form, Integrated Action is a mostly military endeavor.

The Colombian government’s new strategy is being billed as a “whole of government approach.” It is meant to have a civilian component from the very beginning, and it envisions the armed forces becoming almost a junior partner by its latter stages, when the state presence is “consolidated.”

So far, however, the armed forces are playing a dominant role. This is so even though the Center for the Coordination of Integrated Action (CCAI) is located within a civilian agency, the Colombian Presidency’s Agency for Social Action (Acción Social). In the regions where the strategy is being executed, a clear majority of personnel involved are Defense Ministry personnel: uniformed military and police.

There is ample evidence of the military’s predominance.

The security forces make up the bulk of management positions in the Center for the Coordination of Integrated Action (CCAI) structure.

As mentioned in the first post in this series, a March 2009 presidential directive (PDF) establishes a CCAI “Directive Council” (Consejo Directivo), sort of like a board of directors, to guide the effort. Four of this council’s six members come from one of the state security forces.

  • [x] Minister of Defense
  • [x] Commander-General of the Armed Forces
  • [x] Director-General of the Police
  • [x] Director of the Administrative Department for Security (DAS) in the Presidency
  • [ ] High Counselor of Social Action in the Presidency
  • [ ] Prosecutor-General [Fiscal General]

The military is performing duties that normally correspond to civilians, particularly development and humanitarian programs.

As Semana magazine noted in a recent article praising the model, “While the consolidation strategy is civilian, the military has a protagonistic role, from the engineer battalions that build highways, to the support for other Social Action tasks like the distribution of food and seeds.”

Military engineers are carrying out the bulk of construction projects in the CCAI zones. Juan Manuel Santos offered examples in early May, shortly before leaving his post as defense minister.

“Between 2009 and 2010, military engineers will spend the equivalent of more than 30 million dollars to build such important roads as the Montes de María Transversal [near the Caribbean coast, in the departments of Sucre and Bolívar] or road-paving in La Uribe [Meta] in the former demilitarized zone, a symbolic deed of greatest importance.”

The military’s role extends to heavy participation in, or even coordination of, meetings with communities to discuss development needs. “The military, including Southern Command, meets with communities, offering [productive] projects,” a community leader told me, as others nodded. “They’re involving the civilian population in a military dynamic.”

In fact, one of these programs’ key stated goals is to build communities’ relationships with the military, rather than having the military create the security conditions necessary to allow communities to relate to the civilian part of the government. “Since the last reporting period,” notes a 2008 field report from USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives, “target communities increasingly have been willing to accept assistance with their commitments from the military. This growing willingness demonstrates an increasing level of confidence in the military, and the cooperation this confidence generates is making these relationships even stronger.”

This high degree of military participation is probably not due to any military “power grab,” nor is it necessarily a result of the Uribe government’s evident predilection for military solutions.

First, the model originated with the military. As noted in the first post, the Integrated Action concept and the CCAI came from a series of discussions between Colombia’s Defense Ministry and U.S. Southern Command. This is naturally a recipe for a militaristic model. Beyond moving the model into the Social Action agency, it is not clear how much more has been done to “socialize” it among the civilian sectors of the government. Clearly, though, giving civilian agencies and ministries more of a leadership role than they have now would increase their sense of “buy-in.”

Second, due to security concerns, the military has to predominate during the plan’s earliest phases. If illegal armed groups are still present in large numbers, and killing people, in the zone, then it is hard to argue against a very strong role for the security forces.

Juan Manuel Santos had a point when he wrote in 2007,

“Finding the right balance between military and social effort remains difficult. Our experience has shown that without minimum security conditions, social efforts are fruitless. For that reason, the first advance is military. … [T]he military must establish the first strategy for consolidation which can be supported later by social activities.”

However, anyone who thinks that the main goal should be state-building and economic development may have trouble swallowing the rest of Santos’ argument: “Military criteria must continue to be the genesis of the consolidation. Selecting regions for consolidation must be based on a military strategy that will destabilize enemy plans and positions.”

Security concerns are helping to keep this a military-centered program. My strong impression from what I have seen so far is that the entire program is still in an incipient phase, with security conditions far from established outside of a few small town centers.

It is impressive that the effort has brought security to the town centers of the Vistahermosa / La Macarena zone, particularly the municipal “county seats.” These towns spent decades under uncontested FARC domination, and now they bear virtually no evidence of guerrilla presence.

But while efforts are ongoing to secure rural areas, this is proving to be very difficult. The security situation outside of the towns appears to be very precarious. The degree of FARC activity in rural zones was greater than I’d been led to believe by some of the triumphal rhetoric coming out of the Defense Ministry and the U.S. government. A few examples of that rhetoric:

  • Juan Manuel Santos, in May of this year: “[T]hese regions, which used to be refuges for terrorism and narcotrafficking, have been recovered for peace.”
  • And in February: “The people now reject the FARC in all of its manifestations, defend the state and support the security forces. They are seeing that after being submitted for so long to the FARC’s violence, now, hand-in-hand with the state, progress and development are arriving.”
  • USAID, in mid-2008: “Because of improvements in the security situation, which have come about much faster than anticipated, the consolidation effort is seeing opportunities in transition zones that are proving relatively secure but where a State presence is practically absent. Communities that were controlled by the FARC and dedicated to coca production 6 months ago now find that the Colombian military is providing security, and that coca production is no longer an option.”

To the contrary, the guerrillas were so active near Vistahermosa’s town center that, as discussed in this series’ second post, road travel was thoroughly discouraged. The Fusion Center territory’s rural zone was not what the development community calls a “permissive environment.”

U.S. documents quietly acknowledge that security remains a big issue. USAID recognized in a mid-2008 report, “Although the security situation is improving, it continues to complicate staff travel and program logistics.” That clearly remains the case. Reporting in October, the Government Accountability Office noted that security concerns in the rural zones are very real: “Security remains a primary concern for CCAI because it operates in areas where illegal armed groups are present. For example, CCAI representatives in La Macarena do not travel outside of a 5-kilometer radius of the city center due to security concerns.”

Among those with whom I spoke, there seemed to be a consensus that guerrilla activity in the area began to increase in March 2009. “The guerrillas are reactivating” was how one leader in Puerto Toledo put it. March 2009 was the one-year anniversary of the death of “Manuel Marulanda,” the guerrillas’ co-founder and longtime leader, and two other FARC secretariat members in unrelated incidents. As USAID put it: “The FARC called for a ‘Black March’ to commemorate the deaths and demonstrate its continued relevance after a year of setbacks. … There was an uptick in FARC activities throughout the country.”

In addition, a large-scale effort to capture or kill top-ranking FARC leader Jorge Briceño (a.k.a. “El Mono Jojoy”) has been ongoing on the western edge of the La Macarena zone. FARC activity may be increasing elsewhere in the zone because fronts have been pushed out of – or trying to draw troops away from – the area of heaviest combat.

Local leaders and human rights defenders told me of an increase in the guerrillas’ recruitment of children in the area. The local FARC fronts, they said, have lowered their recruiting age and are now taking away children as young as 9 years old. This, they said, is a reaction to blows the FARC have received from army. Also, the guerrillas consider children to be easier to control.” Guerrillas are “constantly present in schools” in the zone, and parents are pulling their children out of school in order to avoid their recruitment. (On the other hand, I was told of a heartbreakingly grim scenario: parents whose crops were fumigated and are going hungry will make the painful decision to hand their children over to the guerrillas or paramilitaries so that their kids may have enough food to eat. I got no sense of how common this is.)

It is impossible to determine with certainty whether the guerrilla presence in the Vistahermosa – La Macarena zone is a fading but lingering phenomenon, or whether the guerrillas are still the dominant force beyond the town centers. What is certain, though, is that the FARC’s influence has not been reduced to such an extent that the local population has been able to lose its fear of retribution for participating in “Integrated Action” program. The International Crisis Group, citing “local sources in Meta,” wrote in March that “some communities remain apprehensive about a FARC resurgence should the government fail to keep the CCAI promise of permanent presence.” In rural areas, where that presence does not reliably penetrate, the apprehension is even greater.

For their part, USAID and its contractors face their own security challenge: the imperative that they not appear to be participants in an ongoing military operation. A 2007 USAID document recognized the need to maintain some separation from the Colombian military effort, but then went on to say, in as many words, that USAID is there to support the Colombian military.

“The program needs, for security reasons, to maintain a credible space between program field staff and the Colombian military—while at the same time publicly including the military in the process as a representative of the State at events ranging from municipal assemblies to public inaugurations. Coming to a joint understanding on this point has required time and tact, but the process has helped build a strong positive relationship between the program and the Colombian military.”

A church official working in the zone was not convinced that USAID has maintained a credible distance from the military effort. “For us, USAID and Southern Command are the same thing,” he said matter-of-factly.

Beyond the security situation, there is another compelling explanation for the overwhelmingly military nature of Integrated Action so far: the lack of civilian government presence in the region to play the roles that a civilian government must play, and provide the services that civilians are expected to provide.

Many of the non-military institutions that are supposed to be governing neglected rural areas are not stepping up quickly. “[T]he civilian component of the state response can be slow and inefficient,” USAID acknowledges.

“It is apparent that administrative rigidity is a factor hindering the GOC’s ability to respond rapidly to opportunities as they arise. Difficulties arising in the transition zones provide clear examples. This rigidity is the consequence of 1) the normal bureaucratic processes inherent in any democratic government; 2) a history of corruption that has spawned layers of processes to combat that corruption; and 3) a political culture that is accustomed to using administrative infractions to punish political opponents. This rigidity manifests as an institutional reluctance to try anything outside of the clearly defined administrative box. To address this inflexibility, a “comfort zone” needs to be established where GOC employees are allowed to take small chances and adapt procedures so that processes can move forward in the transition zones where rapid and flexible responses are required.”

Much of the problem is a simple lack of civilian capacity. Local governments, USAID argues, simply lack the experience and managerial know-how to “absorb” and carry out ambitious development programs. An additional challenge to working with mayors and governors – one which AID does not explicitly mention – is the possibility that they may face questions for past or ongoing relations with armed groups.

At the national level, capacities and even willingness to participate are uneven. Cabinet ministries and other civilian state entities whose presence would be needed have not all jumped aboard at the same rate.

It is too early in this study to grade civilian government agencies’ contributions in the Integrated Action zones, or to have taken into account all of the reasons for inability or reluctance to participate. But I note that I heard much praise for the National Park Service and the National Learning Service (SENA), and generalized concerns expressed about the Interior and Justice Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry. The latter is a particular concern because of its responsibility for land-titling, which has been proceeding with excruciating slowness.

The performance of the Presidency’s Social Action office – the civilian entity in charge of the CCAI – is more complicated, and we’re not yet ready to evaluate it. Some concerns I did hear about Acción Social include:

  • A sense that the handoff of control from the Defense Ministry is not yet consolidated, and that within the rest of the government, Defense continues to be a more energetic backer of the Integrated Action program than Acción Social, the nominal “owner” of the program.
  • A sense that Acción Social, as an entity with nationwide responsibilities centralized in the Presidency, is more inclined to devote resources to more populated areas where needs are more concentrated, such as the slums that surround Bogotá and other large cities.
  • A sense that Acción Social responds significantly to political criteria. Many of its programs, prominent among them “Families in Action” and “Forest-Warden Families,” are quite clientelistic, as they distribute cash subsidies to grateful poor people. Viewed through the lens of clientelism and seeking political support for the government in power, the sparsely populated Integrated Action zones would be a low priority. They have few voters.
  • This week the Presidency’s longtime high counselor for Social Action, Luis Alfonso Hoyos, announced that he is leaving his post to become Colombia’s ambassador to the OAS. Whether that is good news or bad news for the Integrated Action model is unclear at this point. Hoyos, however, was viewed by some of my interviewees as an official who still “needed convincing” about Integrated Action, which was one of many big-budget programs his office managed. If accurate, this could be a potential explanation for some of the civilian government’s past slowness to get fully involved.

Persistent problems with inter-agency coordination also explain some of the lack of civilian involvement. Though this is something that the CCAI and “fusion centers” are designed to overcome, it is not a trivial task to get agencies with little history of working together to do so in a part of the country where none of them have been present. This is “not something that’s rocket science, but it’s a very, very difficult thing to actually do,” Susan Reichle, the USAID mission chief in Colombia, told the Washington Post last month.

While poor coordination was a frequent complaint I heard, at this point I do not have a lot of specific examples to enumerate. I do have one, though: the National Parks relocation program discussed in the last Integrated Action post. If we were witnessing a situation of effective inter-agency coordination, we would not see a group of trained ecologists – however able and dedicated – finding themselves performing nearly all the planning and logistics for a mass relocation program, complete with community organization, housing construction, and administration of sophisticated productive development projects. While I admire the work they were doing, the lack of coordination that led them to be doing it virtually alone was troubling.

Another reason given for civilian agencies’ reluctance to plunge fully into the Integrated Action model is the lack of a legal framework to give the CCAI statutory authority and permanence. The CCAI is a presidential initiative, not a legally constituted entity of the Colombian government.

While the March 2009 decree addresses this deficiency somewhat, it may not be enough to convince key government ministries to devote a greater portion of their meager existing budgets to priority Integrated Action zones like Vistahermosa – La Macarena. Especially when the decree itself expires at the end of President Uribe’s term, about fourteen months from now.

As a result, while the CCAI headquarters in Bogotá is universally described as a small but efficient office staffed by dynamic young officials who believe in the joint mission, in some cases those officials are operating with little political and financial support from the ministries they represent.

Doubts about the program’s long-term sustainability are also a barrier to fuller civilian involvement. The March 2009 decree only “institutionalizes” the CCAI until August of 2010, when President Uribe leaves office (unless, of course, he doesn’t).

The sustainability of “Integrated Action” is also more immediately placed into question by the very recent exit from government of some of the doctrine’s main architects and advocates within the Colombian government.

Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos was a persistent backer of these programs, and even sought in March to re-brand them as part of a “Strategic Leap” (Salto Estratégico) to make the Colombian state’s presence more permanent in conflict zones. It seems odd to declare a “Strategic Leap” in March and leave your job in May. But that is what Santos did, leaving his post after nearly three years in order to clear the way for a possible presidential bid.

With him, as appears likely, may go Vice-Minister of Defense Sergio Jaramillo, who has been the most active proponent of the Integrated Action model within the government. Jaramillo, according to several accounts, is the official who has done most to cajole and convince recalcitrant government counterparts – both military and civilian – to back CCAI efforts. If Jaramillo leaves the government, it is not clear who will play the active salesman/manager role that had been his.

For all of these reasons, I have to conclude that at this point in its development, the Integrated Action programs are predominantly military. However, it would be unfair to accuse the military of being “unable to let go.” The security situation is more precarious than official statements indicate, and civilian agencies have been very slow to fulfill their proper roles.

While Integrated Action is “predominantly military,” it could just as fittingly be called “insufficiently civilian.”

A second conclusion is that important human rights concerns require attention. I heard troubling human rights complaints during my visit to the Vistahermosa-La Macarena zone. At this stage in our research, I have not been able to verify claims or make specific denunciations of abuses. But it is important to note some trends.

The main problem I heard about in the zone was forced displacement.

The emptiness of towns like Puerto Toledo and (I was told) some of the countryside owed in some part to the collapse of the coca economy. Many who grew or profited from coca in the zone have simply moved elsewhere.

But economics are not the only – and may not even be the main – reason why, as a Puerto Toledo community leader put it, “Many people have had to leave.” The zone has seen frequent combat since 2002, when the last peace process ended and the military re-took the FARC demilitarized zone. Then, in 2004 through 2006, it was a principal theater of operations for the large-scale “Plan Patriota” military offensive. Displacement occurred as people were forced out by fighting, or pressured by the FARC to leave.

While the Integrated Action effort seeks to win the population’s “hearts and minds” with a softer touch, people with whom I spoke said that many local residents, particularly community leaders, had left in order to avoid being detained as suspected FARC supporters. I was surprised to hear fear of the Prosecutor-General’s office (Fiscalía), which has been brought into the zone to investigate and prosecute suspected guerrilla supporters, cited as a reason for displacement.

I heard reports that the paramilitary presence was increasing as the military chipped away at the guerrillas’ once uncontested dominion over the zone.

The paramilitaries in question appear to be those at the command of Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero, alias “Cuchillo,” who now has influence in much of Meta, Guaviare, Casanare and Vichada. I also heard the name of Víctor Carranza, a Boyacá-based emerald magnate who has long been accused of sponsoring paramilitary groups.

Paramilitaries are showing up in town centers, occasionally uniformed but often in civilian dress. In some cases, they claim to be there “with the state’s permission,” and they often encourage or even obligate the population to grow coca. Cuchillo appears to be interested principally in narcotrafficking, rather than massacring suspected guerrilla collaborators. His men have reportedly won over populations by promising to be “less violent” than the guerrillas.

A significant number of paramilitaries, I was told, had taken over a former guerrilla encampment between the hamlet of Pi̱alito Рwhere a police station was recently inaugurated Рand Vistahermosa.

In general, local leaders characterized the military as being on generally good behavior, making an effort not to mistreat the civilian population. However, there were some serious complaints, none of which I have been able to verify. These included:

  • One case of a “false positive” during the second half of 2008, which I was told is already in Bogotá-based groups’ databases.
  • Military and paramilitary personnel patrolling together without insignias on their uniforms.
  • Four indiscriminate bombings so far this year, with no casualties.
  • Blocking trucks carrying food aid to populations, and stealing some of it for themselves. (Local human rights advocates reported raising this issue directly with the commander of the 12th Mobile Brigade.)
  • Obligating civilians to “demobilize,” even though they were not FARC members, using language like “either you demobilize, or we’ll arrest you.”
  • Aggressive behavior or harassment of civilians, including unfounded accusations of being guerrillas.
  • A perceived lack of will to confront paramilitary groups.

A third conclusion is that the military’s relations with the population have been strained by a belief or subtext that anybody who lives in the Vistahermosa-La Macarena zone is somehow a guerrilla supporter. This, at least, was a concern that local leaders expressed repeatedly. While the local population is distrustful of the state, it is interesting to note that they are also concerned that the state doesn’t trust them.

Vistahermosa – La Macarena is part of a zone that was ceded to the FARC for more than three years. Local leaders said they felt that anyone who remained during the entire “despeje” period is treated with suspicion by the newly arrived state authorities. “Of course people had to be with the guerrillas” during the time that the state vacated the zone, one leader said. “Should you accuse people of being guerrilla auxiliaries, then? You could do that with everyone here.”

I heard many complaints about the most aggressive manifestation of this mistrust: mass arrests. Local leaders said that security forces, accompanied by officials from the prosecutor-general’s office, were showing up in towns and rounding up citizens, usually local leaders, who had been fingered as likely guerrilla supporters. A representative of a humanitarian organization told me of arriving in one town in a white 4-wheel-drive vehicle, and finding the entire place empty. After a few minutes, townspeople emerged from their hiding places. “We thought you were the Fiscalía,” they said.

Overcoming distrust is a huge challenge in a region that has been FARC territory for decades, where much of the population was born into, and has never known anything but, living under guerrilla control.

Most of the population appears to be open to having the state protect them and provide basic services. But a small handful of the population is indeed working with the FARC. That is impossible to deny. If you are a representative of the state, this handful of people may help get you killed.

The Colombian government is still trying to figure out how to separate the hardened FARC cadres from the general population in which they are mixed, without alienating that general population. Clearly careful intelligence work and winning the population’s trust are key to this effort. But massively detaining social leaders seems counter-productive, due to the reaction it inspires among the people whom they led.

A fourth conclusion is that forced eradication continues to contribute to distrust. When coca eradication – whether fumigation or manual – is not accompanied by immediate food security and other economic aid, the result may be positive from a counter-narcotics standpoint (there is less coca, momentarily), but disastrous from a counter-insurgency or state-building standpoint.

When small-scale coca growers see their illegal crop destroyed, but are left with no short-term possibility of staying fed, they will react in a number of ways. One apparently common result is that they simply replant coca, or move elsewhere and replant coca. Their resentment of the Colombian government may increase, causing them to align more closely with the FARC or paramilitaries.

The Vistahermosa – La Macarena “Fusion Center” recognizes this dynamic, and has made a priority of following up eradication with quick delivery of food security and development assistance. However, I heard complaints about months-long lags between eradication and the first delivery of promised aid. Indeed, a USAID document notes that the Fusion Center staff are grappling “with the lack of a GOC [Government of Colombia] post-eradication program.” It is remarkable that no such program exists.

In addition, I heard complaints that the manual eradicators themselves are not always the Colombian state’s most diplomatic representatives when they interact with the population. “People fear the eradicators, they are abusive,” one leader told me, citing coarse language and theft of food and other goods.

Fifth and finally, another frequently cited suspicion of government motives is the belief that the Integrated Action policy will lead to a “land grab,” displacing peasant farmers in favor of large landowners.

Some of the more conspiratorial residents note that forced eradication, mass arrests, the arrival of paramilitaries, and displacement are happening at the same time that large oil palm plantations spring up in significant numbers right outside the zone. They then conclude that large landowners want the existing population out of the picture so that they can more easily appropriate their land. For those who harbor these suspicions which are easily spread by rumors – news that land values in the region are rising is a reason for alarm, not celebration.

To counter these rumors, it is important that projects be small scale, including the formation of cooperatives, and accompanied by rapid delivery of clear land titles, in order to disabuse people of the widely held “land grab” notion.

Despite these often critical problems, the “Integrated Action” effort has done enough in the Vistahermosa – La Macarena area to raise people’s expectations a great deal. There is a real desire to live in an area governed by a proper state, to feel secure, to have title to land, and to participate in a community planning process.

My initial impression is that it would do more harm than good to abandon or cease to support Integrated Action. But the model could go badly awry, with grave consequences, if it continues without a number of significant adjustments. These would include – but not be limited to – the following. (We expect our recommendations to be far more specific, detailed and comprehensive as our research advances.)

  • Increase the participation of civilian agencies and institutions. Give them a much greater decision-making and management role in the CCAI in order to encourage their “buy-in.”
  • Give more explicit high-level political backing to this more civilian CCAI, to decrease foot-dragging and make it a higher priority for the state agencies being asked to participate. Ensure that Acción Social provides sufficient funding for, and more active management of, the civilian side of Integrated Action projects, and that it does more to encourage other government agencies to establish their own presence in the priority zones as soon as minimal security conditions permit.
  • Use these added civilian resources to move beyond short-term demonstration projects and commit to larger-scale efforts, especially infrastructure and basic services.
  • Get the military out of non-security roles as soon as it is safe to do so.
  • Continue making improvements in coordination between state agencies, so that ecologists no longer have to oversee housing construction projects or help organize agricultural cooperatives on their own.
  • Ensure that development efforts are chosen by the communities themselves through a transparent process, so that the frequent criticism that programs were “designed at a desk in Bogotá” cannot stick.
  • Speed up land titling to reassure populations that they will not be victims of a “land grab.”
  • Quickly and transparently punish any examples of human rights abuse, so that impunity for abusers does not undermine trust in the state and intimidate citizens who should be participating in community planning processes.
  • Minimize harm to community relations by halting overzealous mass arrests of civilians suspected of guerrilla collaboration.
  • Aggressively confront any signs of paramilitary presence.
  • Eradicate coca only when immediate delivery of food-security and development assistance can be assured. Place a priority on programs in which eradication is voluntary.
  • Focus more on the sustainability of the effort. Integrated Action will not be credible to key constituencies – including civilian government agencies called on to take part in it – if it is in danger of ending in August 2010.

I would add a final, more conceptual, observation. Colombia and the United States have to decide whether Integrated Action is going to prioritize counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics, or state-building.

Defenders of the current program might argue that its brilliance lies in the manner in which it hybridizes these three strategies. Either they would prioritize counter-insurgency, or they would argue that all three are equal components that reinforce each other.

That is often untrue, however. Counter-insurgency undermines state-building when government representatives alienate community leaders whom they suspect of guerrilla ties. Counter-narcotics undermines both counter-insurgency and state building when forced eradication leaves peasants hungry and angry at the government.

In our view, state-building goals should be given priority over counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency. We will develop this more in our final report. But the success of Integrated Action will not be measured by the number of guerrilla attacks or the number of hectares of coca eradicated. It will depend on the extent to which these strategies build a functioning, mostly civilian state in vast areas of Colombia that have never had one. If Integrated Action focuses on meeting that good governance standard, it will leave behind territories that are infertile ground for armed groups, narcotrafficking or organized crime. Govern well – with a full state presence and low impunity – and the guerrilla and narcotrafficking problems will fade.

If Integrated Action can do away with statelessness and impunity in lawless regions of Colombia, it would offer the world a promising model. It isn’t there yet. But nor is a disastrous outcome assured. With important adjustments and corrections, and close monitoring of the programs’ execution, what has been started in Vistahermosa – La Macarena could turn out well.

May 04

Here is an interview recorded April 24 with Rodrigo Botero, the director for the Amazon and Orinoco regions at Colombia’s National Parks Service.

Colombia’s government, with U.S. support, is trying to implement a “consolidation” strategy to establish state presence and services in the vast areas of the country that have historically been completely ungoverned. One of the priority zones, and one which has received significant U.S. investment, are the municipalities in and around the La Macarena National Park.

A FARC stronghold for decades, the La Macarena park was situated completely within the demilitarized zone ceded to the guerrillas during the failed 1998-2002 peace process. During the 2000s, this zone of primary forest saw a sharp increase in coca cultivation, as farmers moved into the zone, with guerrilla encouragement, to grow the crop. Since 2006, the Colombian and U.S. governments have responded by sending manual eradicators, then fumigation aircraft, into the park.

Mr. Botero is wrestling with one of the thorniest questions that the state-building effort faces: what to in areas where people simply shouldn’t be living? In zones that, because they are parkland, wilderness, or simply too far from the rest of the population, cannot expect to be properly served by the government?

His solution has been an ambitious program to move people out of the park with promises of housing, productive projects and food-security assistance in exchange for voluntary eradication of coca. His efforts – by far the largest voluntary eradication project in the country – have so far brought the permanent disappearance of 2,000 hectares of coca from in and around the park.

Though he is an ecologist by training, Mr. Botero and his team have had to learn a lot very quickly about rural development, housing construction, community organizing and political negotiation. Though the Park Service is purportedly part of an inter-agency effort to bring the Colombian state into the area surrounding La Macarena, it – and the communities with which it is working – have seen little assistance or accompaniment from most other government agencies.

Here are 5 minutes of footage of a conversation with Mr. Botero, with English subtitles. He describes the model that he has constructed, together with the leaders of several communities outside the park.

Interview with Rodrigo Botero from Adam Isacson on Vimeo.

(Yes, by the way, I’m aware my Spanish accent is atrocious.)

Jul 17

This blog has never before approvingly excerpted the words of a Bush administration secretary of defense. But there’s a first time for everything.

The speech that Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave on Tuesday hits a lot of important notes about the need to halt the “militarization” of U.S. foreign policy by dramatically increasing our non-military resources worldwide.

For some, this speech may recall Dwight David Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex” speech, given three days before he left the presidency in 1961. These are the words of an official from an outgoing administration – an administration whose White House and State Department have not echoed them. (Nor have these concerns been expressed so clearly by top congressional leaders, who of course make the final funding decisions.)

Still, Gates’s warnings and prescriptions deserve even more attention than the significant amount they have attracted this week. Here are the most thought-provoking excerpts. Emphases are ours.

In the campaign against terrorist networks and other extremists, we know that direct military force will continue to have a role. But over the long term, we cannot kill or capture our way to victory. What the Pentagon calls “kinetic” operations should be subordinate to measures to promote participation in government, economic programs to spur development, and efforts to address the grievances that often lie at the heart of insurgencies and among the discontented from which the terrorists recruit. It will take the patient accumulation of quiet successes over time to discredit and defeat extremist movements and their ideology.

We also know that over the next 20 years and more certain pressures – population, resource, energy, climate, economic, and environmental – could combine with rapid cultural, social, and technological change to produce new sources of deprivation, rage, and instability. We face now, and will inevitably face in the future, rising powers discontented with the international status quo, possessing new wealth and ambition, and seeking new and more powerful weapons. But, overall, looking ahead, I believe the most persistent and potentially dangerous threats will come less from ambitious states, than failing ones that cannot meet the basic needs – much less the aspirations – of their people.

In my travels to foreign capitals, I have been struck by the eagerness of so many foreign governments to forge closer diplomatic and security ties with the United States – ranging from old enemies like Vietnam to new partners like India. Nonetheless, regard for the United States is low among the populations of many key nations – especially those of our moderate Muslim allies.

This is important because much of our national security strategy depends upon securing the cooperation of other nations, which will depend heavily on the extent to which our efforts abroad are viewed as legitimate by their publics. The solution is not to be found in some slick PR campaign or by trying to out-propagandize al-Qaeda, but rather through the steady accumulation of actions and results that build trust and credibility over time.

Much of the total increase in the international affairs budget has been taken up by security costs and offset by the declining dollar, leaving little left over for core diplomatic operations. These programs are not well understood or appreciated by the wider American public, and do not have a ready-made political constituency that major weapons systems or public works projects enjoy. As a result, the slashing of the President’s international affairs budget request has too often become an annual Washington ritual – right up there with the blooming of the cherry blossoms and the Redskins’ opening game.

As someone who once led an agency with a thin domestic constituency [the CIA], I am familiar with this dilemma. Since arriving at the Pentagon I’ve discovered a markedly different budget dynamic – not just in scale but the reception one gets on the Hill. Congress often asks the military services for lists of things that they need, but that the Defense Secretary and the President were too stingy to request. As you can imagine, this is one congressional tasking that prompts an immediate and enthusiastic response.

It has become clear that America’s civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long – relative to what we spend on the military, and more important, relative to the responsibilities and challenges our nation has around the world. I cannot pretend to know the right dollar amount – I know it’s a good deal more than the one percent of the federal budget that it is right now. But the budgets we are talking about are relatively small compared to the rest of government, a steep increase of these capabilities is well within reach – as long as there is the political will and wisdom to do it.

Overall, even outside Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States military has become more involved in a range of activities that in the past were perceived to be the exclusive province of civilian agencies and organizations. This has led to concern among many organizations – perhaps including many represented here tonight – about what’s seen as a creeping “militarization” of some aspects of America’s foreign policy.

This is not an entirely unreasonable sentiment. As a career CIA officer I watched with some dismay the increasing dominance of the defense 800 pound gorilla in the intelligence arena over the years. But that scenario can be avoided if – as is the case with the intelligence community today [clearly, he had to say that] – there is the right leadership, adequate funding of civilian agencies, effective coordination on the ground, and a clear understanding of the authorities, roles, and understandings of military versus civilian efforts, and how they fit, or in some cases don’t fit, together.

Broadly speaking, when it comes to America’s engagement with the rest of the world, you probably don’t hear this often from a Secretary of Defense , it is important that the military is – and is clearly seen to be – in a supporting role to civilian agencies. Our diplomatic leaders – be they in ambassadors’ suites or on the seventh floor of the State Department – must have the resources and political support needed to fully exercise their statutory responsibilities in leading American foreign policy.

Jun 26

“What I have here is the map of the imperial occupation of Bolivia,” said a high official of Evo Morales’s government, speaking at a conference in which I participated last week in La Paz. He held up a map of Bolivia depicting the country’s hundreds of municipalities (counties), which the majority of them shaded in. “The few white parts of the map are all that are left to us.”

Was he showing us a map of U.S. military deployments, or security-force units that get U.S. aid? No. It turned out to be a map of  locations in Bolivia where the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has recently funded projects.

USAID has come under heavy fire from the Morales government for allegedly channeling resources to the political opposition, and even to separatist movements in eastern Bolivia. Last week, Morales urged leaders of coca-growing communities to reject USAID funding: “It is not possible that some of our compañeros, former and current leaders are behind USAID when they have carried out a permanent campaign against Evo, against the government and against change.”

Yesterday, leaders of the coca-growers’ federations in the central region of Chapare – where USAID has spent over US$100 million on alternative-development projects – took Morales’s advice. They announced that they would no longer participate in USAID programs, and set about taking down signs bearing the agency’s logo posted near development projects’ sites. (USAID was already drawing down its projects in the Chapare region anyway, while increasing its alternative-development expenditure in the Yungas coca-growing region, near La Paz.)

The U.S. government has been generally restrained, but still has given the Morales government few incentives to moderate its tone. USAID programs in Bolivia do suffer from a lack of transparency about their final recipients, which has opened them to accusations that may or may not be unfounded. (Are these potable water projects, or “technical assistance” for opposition movements?) The agency’s handling of assistance to municipal governments in the Chapare, whose mayors are members of the ruling MAS party, has been ham-handed: projects begun with the mayors in 2004 had their funding abruptly frozen in 2006. Washington’s granting of asylum to former President Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, who ordered a violent crackdown on protesters in 2003, is a key anti-U.S. rallying point for the Morales government.

Even Condoleezza Rice’s recent words to the Wall Street Journal editorial board – “The Bolivian regime is the problem” – were a gift to the hard-liners in the pro-government ranks. None of this does anything to encourage or embolden moderates in the MAS who would support dialogue and cooperation with the U.S. government. Instead, it isolates them.

From energy policy to Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada to the drug war, there will be many issues distancing Washington and La Paz. Even against this contentious backdrop, though, Bolivia’s prioritization of USAID projects is still puzzling.

Seen from Washington, it is an odd choice of target.

If Bolivia wanted to break ties with the U.S. military and stop the flow of military and police aid, it would require a years-long struggle against stiff opposition from the Bolivian security forces and the U.S. defense establishment (among other U.S. agencies that carry out the war on drugs).

By contrast, funding from USAID is far more fragile. With a little pushback, it could be zeroed out in little more than an instant as those monies are reassigned elsewhere in the developing world. Is this truly the outcome that the Bolivian government seeks?

Jun 03

Here, from my mid-April trip to the southern Colombian department of Guaviare, is a video conversation with Olga Patricia Gómez, who runs Tulasi, a small business in San José del Guaviare, the departmental capital. Tulasi buys and markets alternative, organic produce from a network of producers, most of them in and around the municipality of Miraflores.

She has a lot of proposals for how businesses like hers could attract legal income to Guaviare’s coca- and violence-ridden countryside, with just a few well-targeted investments. But as she notes, few foreign donors – including USAID – include Guaviare in their development plans.

May 20

Page 48 of a 2005 report [PDF] from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime features a remarkable table, reproduced to the right of this paragraph. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

For each department (province) of Colombia with coca or opium poppy cultivation, the table offers an estimate of how much international donors were planning to spend on alternative development programs between 1999 and 2007.

Between 1999 and 2006, the UNODC tells us [PDF, page 97], the United States funded the aerial herbicide fumigation of 135,265 hectares (334,247 acres) of territory in Guaviare department. This made Guaviare the third-most sprayed of Colombia’s 32 departments.

But when it comes to alternative-development aid, Guaviare is in 21st place on the table at right, with only US$500,000 in assistance between 1999 and 2007. That’s about US$3.50 for every hectare sprayed, one of the lowest proportions in the country.

This all stick, no carrot approach is barely changing. Except for some so far very limited counter-insurgency economic-aid programs discussed below, Guaviare has seen a host of military and counter-narcotics operations, but very little investment in governance.

Unless this changes quickly, it will be a recipe for frustration. U.S. and Colombian government money spent on counter-narcotics and anti-guerrilla offensives will continue to be money wasted.

Colombian government programs

While U.S. assistance in Guaviare continues to be minuscule, some aid to the department’s citizens has begun to flow through the Colombian government’s own budget, particularly that of the Presidency’s powerful “Social Action” agency. While visiting Guaviare in mid-April, I heard principally about three initiatives.

  • Forest-Warden Families (Familias Guardabosques). Under this program, whose duration is only three years, selected families receive about US$265 per month simply to keep their land free of illegal crops. In exchange, the families must participate in training programs, and some get assistance starting sustainable productive projects.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has not supported this program, which critics have argued is an assistentialist, “money for nothing” effort that leaves behind little new capacity for long-term development. Its value as a counter-insurgency effort is likely greater, as it integrates rural citizens into a paid network of people in frequent contact with state representatives, with a strong incentive to report guerrilla activity on the lands they are charged with protecting from deforestation.

The Forest-Warden Families program has mostly ended in Guaviare, after aiding about 1,000 families and 1,000 individuals. Most with whom I discussed the program in Guaviare expressed doubt about its long-term impact.

  • Families in Action (Familias en Acción). U.S. officials have expressed support for this program, a centerpiece of the Uribe government’s social investment strategy. Like the Forest-Warden Families program, Families in Action provides conditional cash subsidies. In this case, poor families with children are paid a monthly stipend to keep them in school (or, if they are below school age, to ensure that they get regular medical check-ups).

This program covers a significant portion of Guaviare’s population – about 6,100 families in a department whose population barely exceeds 100,000 people. Of those families, 3,600 are in the departmental capital municipality, San José del Guaviare.

I heard two critiques of this program. First, it requires even rural recipients to report once a month to the county seat to pick up their subsidies. Given Guaviare’s non-existent road network, this can mean a day or two of travel for some families – and the expenditure of a significant portion of the subsidy on transportation costs. Mayor’s office officials told of lines stretching for blocks on “subsidy day,” with people routinely arriving a day or more in advance to stake out a place in line, and fights breaking out when some are accused of cutting ahead.

Continue reading »

Sep 24

Lisa Haugaard, director of the Latin America Working Group Education Fund, gave the following presentation last week at a conference about Colombia organized in Washington by Lutheran World Relief. In remarkably few words, she lays out some common-sense – but not always followed – guidelines that should govern U.S. development aid programs and trade policy in Colombia.

Thanks to Lisa and LAWGEF for sharing this with us.

Trade & Development in Colombia:

Through a human rights lens

Lisa Haugaard, Latin America Working Group Education Fund

At Lutheran World Relief’s Forum on

“Conflict, Trade and Development in Colombia”

September 18, 2007

Colombia’s conflict has led to more than 3.8 million people fleeing their homes from violence in recent years, and has caught the civilian population in the crossfire.  Given this context, policymakers and donors should ask the following questions as they make decisions about rural development projects or trade agreements with Colombia.  This may seem obvious, but too often trade and development decisions are not examined in a “human rights and conflict-resolution” light.

Some key questions for any major development or trade decision in Colombia today are:

  • How will it affect human rights?
  • Will it help to reduce tensions or aggravate the conflict?
  • How will it affect the rural population living in poverty in the conflict zones?
  • How will it affect the livelihoods of farmers susceptible to growing coca and poppy? Will it undercut their food crops, leading them to shift towards or revert to illicit drug production, or become more vulnerable to recruitment by guerrilla, paramilitary or other illegal groups?
  • What guarantees are included to ensure this project does not favor criminal networks?
  • How will it benefit or harm the population—rural, poor, Afro-Colombian, indigenous, internally displaced—already most victimized by the conflict?

We can not assume that any development project or trade agreement, even if it looks to have an overall positive economic impact, will necessarily ease the conflict.  We have to examine the different impacts on particular sectors and geographic regions.

To take the most controversial first…

The pending free trade agreement.  Even the most vehemently pro-free trade advocate will acknowledge that some sectors may suffer impacts from trade agreements while other sectors benefit. Which sectors are least likely to benefit from the Colombian FTA, at least initially? A good guess would be, areas of the country without the infrastructure for successful exporting, and sectors of the population least prepared to take advantage of opportunities to export crops and goods favored by a trade agreement—and in particular, small farmers whose crops will not be able to compete domestically with U.S. exports. And these potential losers are likely to be located in Colombia’s conflict zones, and be the population already most victimized by the war, and most likely to be pressed into service by illegal armed groups or lured into illicit drug production. Continue reading »